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British Columbia UBCM won’t cancel Chinese consulate’s sponsorship of September convention, despite criticism

B.C’s association of civic politicians is not going to cancel the Chinese consulate’s sponsorship of this year’s September convention, despite criticism linked to growing tensions between Canada and China.

Instead, the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) has decided to appoint an independent panel to review all of its sponsorships and convention financing, whether by governments, unions, energy companies or construction companies.

“There is a strong desire to have these issues fully aired,” said UBCM president Arjun Singh, a Kamloops councillor. “But we don’t want to be knee-jerk in any way.”

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Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, who raised the issue last month, called the decision “a pretty pathetic and embarrassing cop-out.”

“I don’t think the UBCM executive should need a panel to tell them the right thing to do,” Mr. West said

The panel is made up of current and former politicians who have been involved with the UBCM in the past.

Mr. West raised his objections to the event and sponsorship publicly a couple of months ago, when the UBCM released its program for the fall convention with the Chinese-consulate reception still featured.

He had privately asked the president to talk to the executive about barring it prior to that. He has said repeatedly that the union should not be taking money from hostile foreign governments that are persecuting Canadian citizens.

Then the issue erupted publicly last month and expanded to an argument about all of the sponsorships at the UBCM. The organization has 35 sponsors for this year’s convention, each paying $6,000 to be noted in the program and to have any social events they are hosting included in the agenda.

Some critics said they should also then look at sponsorships like the one by CUPE, the union that represents thousands of civic employees in B.C., while others started to raise questions about the involvement of oil and gas companies.

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The issue of having a Chinese government agency involved in the annual convention, which typically draws about 2,000 local-government politicians and staff, only got significant attention this year even though it has been a feature of the convention since 2012.

The UBCM has a policy of allowing almost anyone who asks to be a sponsor, on the principle that convention attendees opt out of anything they disagree with. The only group that anyone could remember not being allowed as a sponsor was the cannabis industry, which was disallowed when it was still illegal.

B.C. has a substantial Chinese population, particularly in the Vancouver region, and represents the highest proportion of Canada’s trade with China. Its $6.67-billion in exports in 2017 represented 29 per cent of Canada’s total trade with China.

As well, Chinese involvement in local real estate is one of the most hotly debated topics in Vancouver, with many blaming mainland Chinese offshore investors and satellite families for the region’s massive increases in housing prices over the past years.

Tensions were exacerbated after Canada arrested one of the country’s top tech executives at the behest of the United States and then China arrested two Canadian citizens who are still in jail. Since then, China has banned Canadian canola and meat imports.

A former Vancouver councillor and prominent member of the city’s Chinese-Canadian community is arguing that B.C.’s civic politicians should be aiming to keep a dialogue going with China, even though Canada-China relations are not good at the moment.

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“The Chinese consulate is willing to pay to talk to us. Why not take advantage of that? The only way to solve the problem is through dialogue and through talking,” said Tung Chan, originally from Hong Kong and a former CEO of the Chinese-Canadian social-services agency SUCCESS.

“It’s important to listen not only to the vocal ones but the silent ones, given this difficult situation.”

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